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Benefits of Journaling

When did you last give yourself the time and space to write down or type out your thoughts and/or emotions? Maybe the last time is when you found yourself writing “Dear Diary” as a child or when you were compelled to reflectively write about something for a class. Everyone is busy and everyone experiences stress, but cultivating a journaling practice can be worth your while, and we’re willing to bet that even the busiest of people can cultivate a journaling practice either daily or weekly.

Writing in your free time may or may not sound appealing to you, but the psychological benefits of journaling have been backed by research time and time again.    

How journaling benefits you:
  • Reduction in stress
  • Reduction in/managing anxiety and depression
  • Overall increase in wellbeing
  • Increasing mindfulness/your ability to slow down and be present with emotions and thoughts
  • Getting thoughts and energy out
  • Putting time, energy, and compassion towards self
  • Improving memory
  • Becoming clear about how you think and feel about a situation
  • Aids in planning and organizing your thoughts and goals
  • Provides a log of your thoughts so you can see the progress that you’ve made or how you previously felt about a situation
  • Provides space for a mental health check in
  • Helps with self-expression and articulating your inner experience

Regardless of the type of journaling you’re doing, the benefits abound. Taking the time, no matter how short (even a few minutes as we will see), allows for you to re-center and ground yourself into the here and now to see what is currently going on with you and how you feel about something. This can really help you to work through what you may like to do about a situation that is bothering you (e.g., how are you going to hold boundaries with your boss? And what comes up for you when you think about directly addressing that?) Journaling can also help to serve as helpful reminders. If you are working on codependency, for example, rereading a previous entry about what it felt like to reach out to an ex during a time of stress and be ignored may help to deter you from using an old coping strategy you’re trying to avoid.

Step away from tech when journaling

Writing by hand actually improves memory and can be therapeutic and calming in and of itself. Did you ever wonder why teachers would encourage you to take notes in class and write down something over and over that you were trying to memorize? It’s because the physical act of writing actually helps you slow down, increase focus and remember more! In this way, writing down affirmations could be a powerful practice!

According to Nancy Olson from Forbes magazine, handwriting with an actual pen and paper positively impacts the brain by:

  1. Increasing neural activity in certain sections of the brain, similar to meditation.
  2. Sharpening the brain and helps us learn- it actually activates large regions of the brain responsible for thinking, language, healing and working memory.
  3. Forcing us to slow down and smell the ink and sparks creativity

Different Ways of Journaling

First and foremost, there’s no “right or wrong” way of doing it! Actually, many different types of therapy incorporate some type of journaling or self-monitoring into the work that you’ll do with your therapist. One example is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT uses what is called a “diary card” to track behaviors and coping skills daily to better recognize what behaviors a person may want to change. This is considered a form of journaling. However, your journaling practice does not have to be that structured. It can be free-flowing on the page, just putting words to your current emotions and experience.

Here are some things to consider trying if you are looking to start a journaling practice or switch up what you’re already doing:

  • Setting a timer and free writing about your current emotional state for 5-10 minutes
  • Experimenting with writing longhand and typing
  • Don’t have a lot of time? Try “bullet journaling” your thoughts
  • Experimenting with adding some visual elements to your journaling (doodles, or doing a completely word-free journal!)
  • Focusing on gratitude and affirmations
  • Use inspirational quotes or books to reflect on
  • Setting short-term and long-term goals and sketch out a plan to accomplish them
  • Journal in the form of letters to people you want to express something to (you don’t have to mail them)
  • Reviewing your entries periodically and reflecting on them

When is the best time to Journal?

Try journaling at different times of the day to see when you are most creative. Morning journaling is great time to use affirmations and planning. It helps create a mindset for courage, confidence and creativity in your day. Great things to add to this are listing your 7 top goals (personal and professional), then 1 way you are going to be working towards each in the next 24 hours! Rewriting those same goals day after day, along with your steps will make you more focused, creative, and motivated. You will see yourself moving forward faster than just keeping those goals in your head!

In the moment journaling comes in handy when you are being triggered by a stressor or blessing. Having your journal, or even a scrap piece of paper, on hand lets pour through thoughts and assess if they are realistic or distorted. Oftentimes we can be overwhelmed by the strangest of thoughts, ones that can feel so real or intense but once we write them down, we are able to analyze them in a different way. Often discharging or minimizing the negative energy and anxiety that came with them. Try this exercise: Write down your feared though, then write 3 reasons why you believe it is true, then write 3 reasons why it isn’t. Compare, assess, challenge, evaluate, than rewrite that original thought in a different form after incorporating these different elements. Often you will find your way of seeing and feeling about the thought has changed. This can all be done in a 5 min process! But it really helps to see things on paper!

Nighttime journaling is great to download your thoughts before bed. It can clear out your brain a bit an increase your ability to get a good night sleep. Often, we lay there reviewing thoughts over and over again, afraid we will forget or lose something. Writing it down before you turn in assures you that you won’t! A great add on for nighttime journaling is to add in the 3 things you are most grateful for, 2 accomplishments of your day, and 1 moment you reached out to improve someone else’s day.

Ongoing Support

While journaling is certainly beneficial, it does not replace attending counseling with a trained professional, nor does it alone “treat” any type of disorder or ailment. Reviewing some of your journal entries throughout the week in a therapy session can really help to keep you on track and help you remember what you may want to process in therapy that week because you’ll have some documentation or pictures to help you remember. Consider making an appointment with an Angelus therapist today to work to ensure that your mental health is stable and that your self-care routine is a priority. They can help you to brainstorm ways that journaling may be particularly beneficial for you and come up with an individualized journaling plan to help you meet your goals.

Getting Started

We would encourage you to select a journal that feels right for you, not just a stapled pack of loose-leaf pages, but something you think is aesthetically pleasing and represents the type of work that you’ll be doing with your journal. Make sure that you only use it for journaling if it is a physical book, so not making to-do lists in it for work. If you are going to type out your journal, create a practice where you intentionally create a physical space that is conducive to self-reflection (maybe having it be different than your work desk).

Below are some helpful prompts to get you started with the journaling process: 
  • A mental health check in: What is working well right now for me?
  • What might I need to improve on in terms of taking care of myself?
  • What relationships/connections in my life are feeling really aligned/nurturing? Are there any that I want to put more energy in to? Are there any that I would like to pull back from?
  • Who is the proudest of you right now (whether living or not)? Can you extend that compassion to yourself?
  • When have you felt the most safe in your life?
  • What are the 3 most important things you want to accomplish this year?

**Want more suggestions? Sign up below for our newsletter and receive our Getting Started with Journaling Guide instantly in your email, it is full of suggestions & prompts to help you get started with your journey in journaling!

Download our Getting Started with Journaling Guide Now!

*Signing up for our Journaling guide and prompts gives us permission to add you to our monthly newsletter list. Once per month we send out our Mental Health Matters newsletter full of useful insights, education and links to help you manage your mental health, support your loved ones, and make connections within our community.

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